Under Pressure

November 6th, 2004 · No Comments · Writing

I’m royally goofing off this Saturday morning. I’m still in PJs, drinking my second cup of coffee, looking at the Anthropologie catalogue, listening to Glassworks far too loudly (there’s a brand-new baby upstairs, but I’m not feeling generous enough to turn the music down), wishing we could go to the Bang on a Can All-Stars with Philip Glass at UCLA on Wednesday. Even if I hadn’t just blown our extra spending money yesterday on some new Levi’s, we’ll be too busy getting this animation project ready to hand over to the gallery on Friday.

Shameless plug: Boundary Crossings, the group show we’re participating in, opens Sunday, Nov. 14 from 5-8pm at the Cal State Long Beach Gatov Galleries: directions here. Yes, we’re officially in “show mode,” despite my Saturday morning lazy-fest.

Like any couple, Murray and I have our own short-hand, and “show mode” is code for art-making under deadline. Usually, our work is a one-night-only performance, and we’re working with a group of performers and construction crew members to make sure that the piece is ready for the opening night. There is a hypnotic energy that comes with being in show mode, and Murray and I both feed on that energy.

One-night-only performances are about as rigid a deadline as you can get. The opening is advertised, and the audience will show up whether you’re finished or not. Usually, the places we show can only give us a certain amount of time to build the piece, so we have to work quickly. Sometimes we have a month to install the artwork, but more often, it’s two weeks, or one week. Once, we completely set up, had the performance, and tore down, a piece in 24 hours, although we never want to do that again.

Show mode is when we “burn the furniture,” another short-hand for sparing no expense to get the job done, for doing whatever it takes to fuel the artwork. Show mode means the urgency of immediate need trumps everything else: it’s freezing cold outside and you’re going to die if you don’t get a fire going, so it’s time to burn the furniture. Eventually, you’ll have to replace that burned furniture, surely at greater expense and hassle, but the need is so immediate in the moment, the future consequences aren’t worth considering.

Show mode means that we spend massive amounts of time (and money) working on the project at hand. In our early twenties, we could work 18-hour days, sleeping in small increments doled out like rations to keep the energy going as necessary.

These days, we just can’t burn our candles at both ends like we used to (to mix a metaphor or two). We require a reasonable amount of sleep, healthy meals, and some “down” time. The project we’re working on right now is different from our other work; it’s smaller in scale; it’s not a live performance; it’s not a solo exhibition, but part of a group show. In some ways, we miss the energy of a high pressure deadline, but mostly, it’s wonderful to make work at a more reasonable pace.

We’ve been working steadily on the artwork for a few weeks now in our home studio, between teaching classes and working, going to class, studying for exams, writing papers, grocery shopping, cooking, meeting friends for coffee, going on our daily walks, and going shopping for new jeans. It’s nice to work consistently and diligently, and in balance with the rest of our lives.

The reason we want our own exhibition space so badly is that we want ample, unrestricted time to build the artwork and we want to build work for a space that we know intimately. Each time we work in a new space, we have to start from scratch. We’re wanting stop burning furniture, and to begin to make provisions for our future.

As our lives progress, it will be interesting to see how our work changes and adapts to the rhythm of the quotidian. One first: Murray has been in Mexico this weekend. Before this project, it has been completely unfeasible to think of one of us being out of town the weekend before an opening. As for me, I’ll eventually get dressed, throw some soup-makings in the crockpot, read a little Tolstoy, and then head out to a symposium on Metaphysics with a good friend of mine. Without worrying one bit about the big deadline looming over us on Friday.

Category: Writing

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